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"Fosse" on TV; some notes


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#1 dirac

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Posted 24 January 2002 - 02:48 PM

Fosse on TV: some notes

I caught Acts One and Two of the television version of "Fosse" or "Ben Vereen: An Appreciation" as it might more accurately have been called, and it was thought provoking in several ways. While I understand the desire to bring back some of Fosse's best stuff and show it to a generation that wasn't around for the originals, I wonder if yanking television, movie, and stage numbers from their proper contexts and restaging them in this format is really a Good Thing. The film versions of "The Pajama Game" or "Damn Yankees" are dated, but you're better off with them that with the excerpts I saw here. I'm not a big fan of Liza Minnelli's, but presenting Liza numbers without Liza is a mistake. The dancers work hard -- I've never seen so much hair tossing, high kicking, and huge baretoothed grins in my life -- but it ain't the same. Thing is, you don't need all that high powered virtuosity for something like "Steam Heat"; the film producer Hal Wallis picked out Carol Haney's understudy, one Shirley MacLaine, in this number, and I doubt if he was looking at her technique. (I assume Act One had the pre-Chicago Verdon numbers; I can't judge without seeing them, but I feel reasonably certain that the same principle applies.) And why put on "Who's Sorry Now?" or "Mein Herr" when Fosse's far superior settings are a trip to the video store away?

Gwen Verdon was not especially tall; had a large head; and legs that were long but not ostentatiously so. I doubt if she would have made the cut here. Everyone had super long legs and an itty bitty torso.

The choreography. Again, this format is unfair to Fosse while trying to do him justice; I thought if I saw one more derby hat or hunched pair of shoulders I was going to scream. (Of course, part of the problem is that so much of what was new in Fosse became part of the general Broadway style; in the film version of "Kiss Me Kate" for example, it's a real lift, and a harbinger of things to come, when Fosse and Carol Haney slink into camera range for their segment of "From This Moment On" -- it's a refreshing switch from the rest of the choreography, which is in the standard oom-pa-pa manner of the era.)

I was disappointed in the "Sing, Sing, Sing" number that closed the show, for other reasons; it wasn't so much the recurrent mannerisms as the quality of dance invention that seemed sometimes lacking ("Let's see --here I have one of the legendary Benny Goodman solos to work with -- I know! I'll have the girls straddle the guys while the fellows grope their crotches!")

Interesting to note the lack of footwork; the dancers move, for the most part, as if they were wearing the cement shoes with which Dutch Schultz outfitted Bo Weinberg; the body turns inward on itself.


The commentary. It appears that Ann Reinking has assumed the mantle of The Widow Fosse and Keeper of the Flame. It must be pleasant to be able to recollect Bob in tranquillity, as it were, as a Hardworking Genius without having to worry that he's off somewhere making google eyes at Jessica Lange. I have had a similar feeling watching other ladies -- Lillian Hellman, Katharine Hepburn, Yoko Ono, and the late Ms. Verdon come to mind -- who seem to take posthumous possession of a man who appears to have been an unruly and elusive handful in life.


All in all, I'd say it's a good thing that Fosse proved to be such a talented movie director; it's very rare for a stage director to take to the camera as if to the manner born, and it is fortunate that we have a portion of his work filmed by himself, and so well. ( I for one don't have high hopes for the forthcoming movie of "Chicago"; from what I've seen and heard, this is one of those works whose effect is inseparable from its original staging. If Fosse were around to do it himself I might feel differently.)

#2 linsusanr

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Posted 25 January 2002 - 02:46 PM

Thanks, dirac, for your comments! I would be a total amateur on Fosse compared to you, but I taped the PBS special and am going to watch it this weekend. I wanted to see the actual show when it was on tour, but it got cancelled due to the 9/11 situation. I'm just hoping that the PBS version will at least give me more of an idea of the show!

#3 linsusanr

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Posted 29 January 2002 - 01:58 PM

I finally got to watch the Fosse program I taped, and I found it exciting since I hadn't seen any of those numbers before. I knew a lot of the songs, however. It was a lot of fun, but I kind of wished that there was more dancing. The singing and posing were great, but there seemed to be a lack of full-out dancing. When the tapsters in white suits finally broke out into a group dance at the end of that number, I cheered! But I agree with dirac about the Sing, Sing, Sing finale. There were some really neat spots, but also parts I could have done without.

Also, I wished I could have seen more of Edwaard Liang. I found myself hoping that Ben Vereen would move out of the way so I could see Edwaard dance more, but his costume was so dark that he blended into the background anyways! mad.gif All in all I did have fun watching the program, it's good to remember that there's other types of dance out there other than ballet!

#4 Patricia

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Posted 29 January 2002 - 04:52 PM

FOSSE was even more disappointing on television than on stage. It confirmed my suspicions that Fosse's choreography was cleaned up for a kiddie-friendly Broadway audience and, ultimately, a television one. Kind of like the 'new' Times Square as opposed to the one Fosse worked in.

The hard-edge and sleeze factor are gone, which is what his style was all about. Watching his dances in the original CHICAGO, DANCIN', and all his incluside film work always left me uncomfortable, which is why I always had a hard time 'copying' it in dance class.


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